City Orders Evacuation of 85 Bowery Due to Unstable Staircase (Updated)

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City officials at this hour are in the process of evacuating a Chinatown tenement, 85 Bowery, after the Department of Buildings (DOB) declared the property unsafe earlier today.

According to a DOB spokesperson, at least 75 tenants are impacted (that number is expected to rise). There’s an ongoing legal dispute between the tenant association in this building and Joseph Betesh, the property owner. As part of that case, State Supreme Court Judge Kathryn Freed ordered a city inspection.

In the inspection, DOB engineers found that the main stairwell is structurally unstable. The city spokesperson said that the agency issued a commissioner’s order requiring Betesh to replace the stairwell within two weeks.

Meanwhile the American Red Cross is offering relocation assistance to anyone who needs it. DOB dispatched a Chinese translator to the scene, and the Fire Department is on site to coordinate evacuation efforts. State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou also has a representative on site. We understand from her office that the Red Cross has secured hotel rooms for the tenants until Monday. Niou’s team is reaching out to city agencies and non-profits to help with longer-term housing. City Councilmember Margaret Chin has staff on site, as well, helping with Chinese translation and coordinating with city agencies. The Councilmember spoke with residents at 85 Bowery and met with tenants, who gathered at M.S. 131 on Hester Street.

Last month, the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) recommended to Judge Freed that the building be declared rent stabilized (that issue has been the subject of a long-running dispute between the tenants and landlord).

Christopher Marte, a former City Council candidate, has been advocating for the tenants. He first alerted us to the situation at 85 Bowery this afternoon. The plight of the 85 Bowery tenants has been a major cause for Chinese Staff and Workers Association, a local advocacy organization.

UPDATE 8:05 a.m. Susan Ahn, an advocate for the tenants, told NY1:

The landlord told the Department of Buildings that the building is in disrepair. The tenants have been trying to get the landlord to do repairs on this building for years, and he has refused and has been trying to evict them. Now the city is doing the landlord’s bidding and kicking these tenants out onto the street on a cold winter night. There’s old ladies, there’s babies. They won’t tell them anything about where they’re going to go. It’s ridiculous.

See an update to this story here, including a lengthy statement from the property owner. 

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